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Review of Tom Porter’s: And Grandma Said…Iroquois Teachings

Review by Douglas M. George-Kanentiio
News From Indian Country 9-09

I have known Tom Porter (Sakokweniónkwas) for most of my life; he is a cousin, a blood relative from the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory astride the St. Lawrence River 100 km southwest of Montreal. He has, over the past four decades, become one of the most respected cultural teachers among the Iroquois, a spiritual leader welcome across the continent for his sincerity, wit and knowledge. In And Grandma Said he summarizes the ancient customs and traditions of the Mohawk people using his distinctive teaching style which blends together charm, humor and a remarkable command of aboriginal culture.

Tom Porter began his teaching career as a member of the touring group “The White Roots of Peace.” Organized under the authority of the Mohawk Nation Council, the group crisscrossed the continent providing its audience with unfiltered insights into the history, culture and concerns of Native people. It enabled young Mohawks like Tom to channel their energy into a highly demanding occupation as cultural ambassadors while igniting the fires of contemporary Native political activism.

Tom was selected as a spokesperson because he was not only an excellent public speaker but had the trust of the Mohawk Nation Council. He could be expected to represent Akwesasne with honor and to set an example for his peer group as to personal conduct.

Tom encouraged his Native audiences to take pride in their heritage and to look into their history for the strength they needed to remove the shackles of generations of active suppression by Canada and the USA. The response was immediate, passionate and enduring as Natives began to organize formal resistance to destructive policies aimed at obliterating indigenous people as distinct political and cultural entities.

Tom absorbed as much as he taught. His growing wisdom and inherent leadership qualities were acknowledged by the traditional leaders of the Mohawk Nation when he was asked to serve on its governing council while still a very young man. While there he enhanced his knowledge about Mohawk history and spiritual beliefs. He was accorded great respect for his sensitivity and the respect he gave to all people, even those who became adversaries to the Nation.

I was privileged to travel with Tom on many trips and to listen to his lectures before many audiences. Whether it was before a small circle of Native inmates or a skeptical class of post graduate college students, Tom never wavered from his basic message: Mohawks were good human beings in possession of a way of thinking important to the world.

As the years rolled by I came to realize how important it was for our leaders such as Tom to establish a written legacy as to their knowledge. I also knew it would be vital to preserve the flow of Tom’s speaking which is uniquely Mohawk. Fortunately, the editor of And Grandma Said has proven to be the best person possible for collecting and editing a portion of Tom’s teachings, leaving intact the rhythm of Tom’s thoughts.

Lesley Forrester has done a tremendous service to contemporary aboriginal literature by having Tom address the most important elements of Iroquois history and culture. Together, Tom and Lesley have produced a book which is, without exception, the best summation of what it means to be a traditional Mohawk in modern times. It covers the creation of the world, the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy, the importance of clans and the role of leaders. It does so without being bound by technical language but by using words which are direct from the heart.

As the reader is enlightened about ceremony and society they are also entertained by stories of deep personal significance to Tom and his family. The book is equal in importance to Arthur C. Parker’s Parker on the Iroquois or William Fenton’s The Great Law of the Iroquois. It may be their superior since it is the product of someone who has experienced Mohawk life in all of its dimensions, by a person who has devoted his life to preserving the heritage of his Nation.

 

Douglas M. George-Kanentiio,

Bear Clan Mohawk

• Author of Iroquois on Fire (Praeger Publishers: 2006) ISBN: 0-275-98384-6.

• Winner of the Wassaja Award for Journalism Excellence by the Native American Journalists Association in 1994.

• Member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian

 

 

 

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